'The Woman in the House...' review: Mystery spoof poorly executed

Kristen Bell stars in Netflix series that is never quite sure what it wants to be.

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It's tough to pull off a good mystery, and even harder to pull off a great satire.

"The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window" is never quite sure which one of those things it's trying to be, so it winds up whiffing on both fronts. 

Kristen Bell in "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window."

Kristen Bell is Anna Whitaker, a divorcee in idyllic suburbia whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer. That last bit is kinda-sorta played for laughs, which is indicative of the rocky terrain this dark comedy tries (and fails) to navigate.

Anna's days are now spent drinking comically large glasses of wine, which early on is meant as a comedy bit (think "Inside Amy Schumer's" send-up of "Friday Night Lights") but soon just becomes a character trait, no winking intended. What is this show, again?

Across the street a new neighbor moves in, widower Neil (Tom Riley) and his daughter Emma (Samsara Leela Yett), and Anna watches them through her window, glug-glugging glasses of wine. She bakes him a casserole — perhaps no show has tried harder to mine jokes from casseroles — and maaaybe there's a spark between them? Just her luck, Neil has a girlfriend, leggy flight attendant Lisa (Shelley Hennig). But when Anna witnesses her murder she becomes an Instagram sleuth and goes about tracking down the killer. 

Or maybe it was just the wine and there was no murder. "The Woman in the House..." fumbles around, ostensibly sending up murder mystery novels-turned-movies like "The Woman in the Window" and "The Girl on the Train" (Bell's character can be seen reading novels with titles like "The Woman Across the Lake" and "The Girl on the Cruise"), but not offering up any real commentary on them aside from acknowledging their existence. There's overwrought, over-the-top narration from Bell's character ("when your past is so present, how can there be a future?"), but that gets dropped after a few episodes without explanation. 

"The Woman in the House..." suffers from pacing issues and is stretched painfully thin at eight episodes (some as brief as 22 minutes), although it might have worked better as a movie, with the absurdity heightened, the fat trimmed and a more clear comic tone. The title suggests a "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood"-style lampooning of the genre; instead, we get warmed-over casserole.  

The twists and turns are meant to mock genre clichés but instead come off like lazy plotting, leaving "The Woman in the House..." in some sort of non-committal middle ground between drama and spoof. We're gonna need a bigger glass of wine. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window'

GRADE: C-

TV-MA: Adult situations, language, sexuality 

On Netflix